Reading Officials Anticipate Announcement Of Funding For Downtown Project

Picture 533Reading officials are hoping that a visit Wednesday from the state’s community and economic development secretary will result in millions of dollars in grant money to build a thriving business district downtown.

City officials are anticipating that the state has accepted the city’s application to be designated as a Keystone Community, which would provide access to economic development-related funds.

They say they haven’t been given the final word, but city officials said state Community and Economic Development Secretary C. Alan Walker is coming to Reading to make an announcement Wednesday.

“We’re hoping that’s part of the reason why he’s coming,” Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer said Monday.

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Downtown Wilkes-Barre Putting On A New Face

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The loud purple facade of the former Flaming Star Tattoos shop will soon be toned down to fit in with the downtown Wilkes-Barre neighborhood’s historical character — a subtle yet significant sign of once-shuttered storefronts being renovated or reopened around the theater complex.

It wasn’t just the color that unsettled city officials who saw the potential for the shop’s row of old architecture on South Main Street. It was the way the vibrant hue stopped midway up the building in an uneven line, accentuating the unfinished progress of the paint job and much of the neighborhood.

“One of the first things the new owners will do is repaint that facade,” said attorney William Vinsko, who bought the building at a Luzerne County back-tax auction for $33,000 last week on behalf of private clients who will be identified when the deed is recorded.  The buyers plan to renovate the property at 86 S. Main St. to attract tenants, Vinsko said.

Next door, Joseph and Pamela Masi are redoing the facade and interior of their property, which previously housed Topper’s topless bar, Vinsko said.  The Masis, who purchased the property for $85,000 in 2010, have added an ice cream shop at the rear of the property.

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New York Parks In Less Affluent Areas Lack Big Gifts

When Frederick J. Kress, who sits on the board of the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy, heard about it, he had only one thought: What about us?

Flushing Meadows-Corona, which has been the setting for two World’s Fairs, is considerably larger than Central Park, at 1,225 acres, compared with 843. Last year, its conservancy attracted $5,000 in donations.

The park’s bicycle and walking paths are cracked and pitted, Mr. Kress said, and its natural areas are overgrown with invasive species.  “Central Park is doing pretty well,” said Mr. Kress, who is also president of the Queens Coalition for Parks and Green Spaces, noting that though Mr. Paulson’s home on Fifth Avenue overlooks Central Park, he grew up in Queens.  “I’m not saying he owes anyone anything, but how about you give Central Park $98 million and Flushing Meadows-Corona $2 million?  That two million would have gone so much further in an underappreciated park.”

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Business Reaction Mixed To Reading Crime Plan

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Blair County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Blair County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Berks County political and law enforcement leaders attempt to reshape the future of crime fighting in the county, a third group of people – business leaders – have been pulled into the discussion.

One goal set at the Jan. 18 crime summit called for scrutiny of a Blair County program advocated by Gov. Tom Corbett.

The financial heart of the program is businesses donating money for police initiatives.

No such arrangement exists in Berks. Reactions of business leaders here have ranged from strong skepticism to strong interest.

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Foundation For Pottstown Education Outlines 2013 Goals

POTTSTOWN — As 2012 wound down to a close, the Pottstown School Board got a glimpse of what 2013 may look like — at least in terms of the plans being made by the Foundation for Pottstown Education.

Executive Director Myra Forrest outlined for the board the eight major goals the foundation has set for itself in the coming year.

Here is a brief look at those goals.

• PEAK: The foundation wants to ensure continued funding for PEAK, which stands for Pottstown Early Action for Kindergarten readiness is Pottstown’s signature early education program. It partners with pre-schools and childcare providers to get youngsters read for school.

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Lancaster And York: A Tale Of Two Cities

I just read a very interesting article from the York Daily Record comparing York and Lancaster.  I found the article very thought-provoking as a former Lancaster City and suburban Lancaster resident.  I also am somewhat familiar with York.

Of course, I will share my opinion with you since that IS what I do and offer some advice for York in the process.  There is a link at the bottom of this piece where you can read this article for yourself.

I must agree with Sonia Huntzinger, the Director of Downtown Inc. in York.  A comparison is not really fair.  Lancaster and York have some similarities and they are only about 30 miles apart, but that is about where it ends.  There are strategies York can use that Lancaster has already perfected and customize them for York, without reinventing the wheel.   BUT York must also embrace itself and be true to its own history.

The first thing that jumps out at me is that York needs to move on from its past.  Race riots in the late 60’s were 40 years ago and our nation and York have changed since then.  York was not the only city in America to have race riots and bad ones.  Pittsburgh had some humdingers and can anybody remember Watts!?!  But again, that is ancient history and holding on to a negative event from the past is unhealthy!  Let it go!

Secondly, York could be very successful and they are making great strides to that end.  Heritage Tourism in a historic city like York must be fully embraced.  It certainly worked for Lancaster and it will most certainly work for York.  Lancaster has been at this far longer so they are light years ahead of York because of a HUGE head start. 

More than 4 million people visit Lancaster each year as it is one of Pennsylvania’s largest tourist destinations.  York should piggy back on that phenomenon and say to those tourists visiting Lancaster, “Hey! Come on over!  York is only a short car ride away!”  It would enhance the experience for both 18th century cities.  (Lancaster being incorporated in 1742 and York being incorporated in 1787.)  If you take away the Amish factor, there are people who would be interested in touring another “period city” that nearby!

Thirdly, stop looking at each other as “foes” (White Rose vs. Red Rose) and look at each other as business partners.  Frankly, cooperation is a win-win for everybody.  That includes Harrisburg.  These three metropolitan areas are contiguous and should be marketed as a Triad like Winston-Salem, Greensboro & High Point, NC.  Between the Harrisburg, Lancaster and York metropolitan areas (latest population estimates) you have 536,919 HBG + 507,766 LANC + 424,583 YORK = 1,469,268 people!  This is a more accurate picture of what you really have to work with and market to. 

Leveraging all three areas as one tourist destination would totally make sense and everyone would benefit.  Combine resources folks!  Many hands make light work and all that.  From a financial prospective, during a recession, working together makes sense.  Combine budgets, cut costs and everyone benefits.

Fourth, I will disagree with Sonia Huntzinger on this point (no offense, Sonia).  She stated in the article that Central Pennsylvania can not support another arts district like Lancaster’s.  With a draw of 1,429,268 people you certainly can.  Furthermore, Harrisburg is going great guns in Midtown to set up a big arts community there as well (I guess they didn’t get the memo, haha).  Each city should have an individual, size appropriate, arts area.  The “arts” are a huge tool in the redevelopment process.

Fifth – “Eds and Meds” are vital to redevelopment.  I do not care if York Hospital and College are not downtown.  They are large employers and stakeholders whether they like it or not.  As downtown York prospers, so will they.  Scranton and Wilkes-Barre have made their colleges partners in their redevelopment.  A healthy York will help York College attract more students and help the hospital attract more young people as employees.  You want more young people downtown like Lancaster?  You must get the hospital and college onboard.

Sixth – the perceived safety issues in York need to be overcome.  Sorry but there are stabbings/shootings in Lancaster too.  Anybody who says not is delusional.  Lancaster has a lower crime rate than York because redevelopment does that.  In addition, Lancaster has a surveillance camera system in place and a noticeable police presence downtown.  Until York can get those numbers down, they need to beef up police foot patrols in the downtown to make people feel safer.  Those surveillance cameras only cost $9,000 a piece, installed.  They might be something for York to consider going forward.  Saying we have no money is not a solution.  Find money to pay for foot patrols and cameras.  There are grants out there.  You can not afford to not spend money on public safety if you want to be like Lancaster.  You must overcome the crime stigma yesterday!

Lastly, private sector funding is the wave of the future because of budget constraints with our state and federal governments.  There is still money available but finding ways to involve the private sector is becoming increasingly important.  Large employers in York County need to be made to understand the importance of “giving back” and that they will reap benefits by doing so.  Groups like YorIT will also play an increasing role in moving York forward (

Here is a link to the article that spurred my post:

It is vital that Pennsylvania’s cities be robust and growing.

Scranton: Northeast Pennsylvania’s Economic Growth Engine (Part Two)

(Continued from yesterday’s Part I below)

I asked Mayor Doherty if the population decline in Scranton was a concern and was he focused on trying to reverse it.  The mayor said the population is growing and becoming more diverse.  There are now two dozen languages being spoken in the Scranton School District and over 70 ESL teachers.  When the mayor took office ten years ago there was one ESL teacher in the school district.  I recently read that the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metropolitan area is the least diverse of any metropolitan area in the United States over 500,000 people.  It would seem this may be changing.

We talked about the significance of what having a medical college and possibly a law school would mean for Scranton.  Bringing in and retaining college educated people will help stop the “brain drain” and grow a population with more disposable income.  This in turn fosters economic development and reduces crime.  Medical schools and law schools bring a certain amount of prestige to any city lucky enough to have one.  Perception is a hard thing to change.  These types of accomplishments will tangibly demonstrate that Scranton is not a rust-belt, blue-collar, post-industrial casualty.  Instead, Scranton has pulled itself up by its bootstraps and seeks to reclaim her proud heritage and rightful place as an economic powerhouse in Pennsylvania.

With a new governor in Pennsylvania things will most likely change.  Ed Rendell was a friend to Scranton and poured $140 million into the city for economic development.  Governor Corbett is still an unknown, only just taking office.  Many who received funding from Rendell are worried that money might be harder to come by under Corbett.  The good news from Scranton is private sector funding for economic development has reached a level that will sustain Scranton in the event that money from Harrisburg dries up.

One of Mayor Doherty’s mottos is “invest in yourself”.  Two examples of this are the restoration of the municipal building lobby and fixing the broken “Scranton The Electric City” sign that is perched atop on of the city’s taller buildings (pictured above).  The mayor feels strongly about the message neglect, disrepair, messy, dirty and cluttered can send to residents and visitors.  The first-floor lobby area in the historic Municipal Building was cluttered with soda/snack machines and was in need of a major spruce up.  The mayor did just that.  (While I was waiting outside the mayor’s office, I took a picture of the lobby because it was so impressive – see Part I photos).   The “Scranton The Electric City” sign had been broken for decades.  Now the sign lights up every night and makes a positive statement about the Scranton of the present, while honoring the city’s past accomplishments.

Having frequent events is an important tool Scranton uses to promote itself, attract tourists and prospective residents.  Scranton has a huge list of events like First Night, St. Patrick’s Day Festival (3rd largest in the U.S. and draws 150,000 people), La Festa Italiana (draws another 150,000 people), Komen for the Cure (10,000 people), Steamtown Marathon (2,500 people), Scranton Jazz Festival and the Pages and Places Book Festival.  These events are helping to make Scranton a “destination”.

My last question to Mayor Doherty was “What has been your greatest challenge?”  His answer was “changing the way people think”.  People need to believe that things are possible instead of falling into the “it can’t be done here”, “it will never work”, “we can’t afford it”, “we never did it that way before” and the litany of excuses to maintain the status quo.  The status quo is why Scranton hit bottom and had 22 empty building in its downtown. 

Mayor Doherty has a vision for Scranton and is undeterred by criticism and negativity.  Nor is he content to rest on his laurels.  He always has future projects on the back burner and showed me some of them while we walked.  The mayor is taking the revitalization of Scranton one project, one building at a time. 

I will share one last thing Mayor Doherty said to me, which is important to always remember.  These things take time.  It took seven years to get to the Connell Building project completed.  Construction took less than one year.  All the planning, committees, red tape etc… took six years.  Rome was not built in a day and neither will Scranton (or any other city) be magically revitalized.  The mayor has accomplished all these things over ten years.  It takes a dedicated team of people to make all this happen.  It also takes someone like Chris Doherty to lead the team with a positive, can-do attitude, a never give up mentality and most of all a healthy dose of patience.

The Electric City has a bright future and is poised to again become one of Pennsylvania’s most vibrant and important cities.